ESTES PARK, Colo. — Snowplowing typically doesn't come with scenic views, but for the drivers behind the wheel of plows on Trail Ridge Road each spring, the scenery can't get much better.
As Rocky Mountain National Park celebrates its 109th birthday Friday, we're taking a look at the famous road.
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From tip to tail, the road is 48 miles long — connecting Estes Park and Grand Lake — and takes drivers along the highest continuous paved road in the United States, cresting at 12,183 feet.
"It would take about two hours to drive straight through, but how can you with majestic views and jaw-dropping scenery? And since it's mostly just a tourist road, that commute time is of little to no concern for most visitors," said Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber.
In the summers and swing seasons, Trail Ridge Road is one of the top attractions in the park.
"While not everyone can, or is even interested in a hike around these mountains, everyone can easily sit and enjoy the view," Luber said.
But Trail Ridge Road, which opened in 1932, was never designed to stay open all year long, since it has 11 miles above tree line.
Come the fall, it closes to vehicles — and for good reason. Between October and June, snowstorms can happen any time, of course even more so in winter. Between limited visibility, strong winds, drifting snow, bitter cold temperatures and an icy road — not to mention no shoulders and few guardrails — it's not where you want to be in a storm. (In August 2021, the road closed due to whiteout conditions.)
"So traveling in the winter, it would be very difficult to nearly impossible, especially at night during a snowstorm," Luber said. "So the park closes Trail Ridge through the winter season, making the alternate route a nearly 150-mile three-plus-hour drive."
Depending on the weather in the spring, Trail Ridge Road typically reopens in late May.
But there's a massive effort to get to that point each year.
"One of the most impressive sites all year is seeing the specialized snow clearing machines carve up the 15 to 20 foot snow drifts," Luber said. "Maintenance crews use enormous snowblower contraptions to clear the road down to bare pavement. Maintenance crews start this process in mid-April as crews from the west side of the park and crews from the east side of the park move along the roadway day after day, and eventually meet near the Alpine Visitor Center."
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This entire process takes about 40 days to complete, on average. In 2023, it reopened on May 26.
"Rocky Mountain National Park is a Colorado treasure and accessible just about to everyone, thanks to this unique, and I would say spectacular, Trail Ridge Road," Luber said.